Extra Large Irish Donegal Carpet

Rug #5085
Size: 607 x 505 cm / 19.9 x 16.6 ft
Handwoven in: 
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A Rare Irish Donegal Carpet, Killybegs, Donegal County, Ireland, Wool on Wool Foundation

Early 20th Century

The plain ‘old gold’ field with small lobed charcoal spandrels enclosing an ivory palmette issuing two curled leaves linking to a smaller palmette, within a charcoal border enclosing continuous ‘in and out’ winged ivory gold and red palmettes alternating with red and ivory hexagonal cartouches linked by continuous bracket vines, flanked by narrow ‘old gold’ guard stripes enclosing continuous stylised flower heads and flora forms, plain charcoal surround

Handmade wool carpets classified as Irish Donegal carpets were produced in the town of Killybegs in County Donegal, Ireland, as a trade mark brand, named Donegal Carpets. The business was founded in 1898 by Alexander Morton, whose name is synonymous as a Pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement established in the last quarter of the 19th Century. The creation of hand made carpets in Donegal boasts an ancient tradition, and as such, Morton, who had first set up a carpet crafting house on the West coast of Ireland, capitalised on the experienced Donegal weavers and put into practice their established techniques as they had been working effectively with wool for generations. This ancient ‘Celtic’ tradition forms a significant and important part of the Donegal design repertoire, with carpets displaying unique previously unseen styles of design incorporating Celtic motifs and patterns to create highly decorative carpets which suited the vernacular orientation of the popular Arts and Crafts style of interior decoration. Morton also touched on looking East to Anatolia (Turkey) and Persia, for inspiration for carpet designs. Towards the end of the 19th Century Victorian era and the early years of the 20th Century Edwardian era, carpets from Anatolia and more specifically made in Ushak had become extremely popular in Western markets, their open stylised flora designs in deep rich colours incorporating shades of red, blue and green were particularly in tune with interior decoration trends of the time.

The Donegal carpet company recognised this and set about replicating these Ushak Anatolian carpets to respond to the huge demand. These distinctive carpets were later to be described as ‘Turkey’ carpets in the marketplace, and due to the close resemblance and method of making, the origins can often be confused and misattributed. The Irish Donegal Carpet Company also made individual highly decorative hybrids with no clear indication of sources of inspiration. The Irish Donegal carpet as seen here is a splendid rare example of Irish Donegal carpet weaving and appears to be such a hybrid. Plain fields as displayed here are seen in 19th Century Persian carpets, particularly from Feraghan in West Persia.

This Irish Donegal carpet presents a wonderfully rich open field in a deep ochre shade often referred to as ‘old gold’. The presence of relatively diminutive charcoal spandrels is courageous as it would perhaps have been easier to present larger spandrels, that on first consideration may have been more in tune to present, given the sheer scale and expanse of the main plain field. The curvilinear drawing of the flora forms in the spandrels is highly individual and gives no clue as to the exact origin of inspiration. This curvilinear drawing is also contradictory to the style of drawing as seen in the borders.The main border pattern is the ‘main activity’ and presents a highly decorative individual ‘Irish’ rendition of palmette, leaf and vine pattern rooted in Eastern carpet tradition, and is supported magnificently from a decorative and balance point of view by the minor border decoration. The border pattern details are drawn in an angular fashion, and simplistic in presentation, erring towards an Eastern tribal basis of inspiration rather than an urban workshop style of drawing which would in the main be more detailed and curvilinear in drawing. Overall this carpet presents a highly individual decorative carpet. This Irish Donegal carpet is an artistic triumph in true individual Irish Donegal carpet tradition. It clearly responds to the fashion of the times, epitomised by the Principals of the ‘Arts and Crafts’ Movement. Such carpets possess a timeless quality and like any outstanding work of art, can be placed in any setting.